A Model of Mercy is Beatified

Earlier this year, I had heard from Fr. John Larson, MIC, about a young Italian woman, Chiara Badano, who was about to be beatified in September. She had died in 1990 just before her 19th birthday. Father John hoped to attend the beatification Mass in Rome with a group of pilgrims from the United States. I found out from him this past week that the pilgrimage had been cancelled since not enough people had signed up. Father John was disappointed since he was unable to go. Something in my heart was encouraging me to attend the beatification Mass to take Fr. John's place. After all, it was only a subway and bus ride away from our Marian house here in Rome. This gentle prompting in my heart left the choice up to me, but I had the impression that God would be pleased if I went. So I asked Fr. Mariusz Jarzabek, MIC, one of our missionaries working in the Philippines, if he wanted to attend. He has been in Rome this week just prior to his return to the Philippines after his vacation and retreat in Poland. He agreed to go.

The Mass took place at the Shrine of the Madonna of Divine Love just south of Rome. The beautiful grounds were overflowing with people. Many would be watching on large screen TVs outside the church since there wasn't enough room for everyone inside. Chiara had been a part of the Ecclesial Movement, Focolare, and so there were members of this movement in attendance from all over the world. I found out that Chiara's parents were also in attendance. I thought about what it must be like for them to attend the beatification of their own daughter. Then I found out that Chiara had been their only child. So while they could now joyfully share her with the whole world, I realized that on a human level, it must be sad for them to now have to live alone. They were both 26 when they married in 1960 (the year I was born) and although they always wanted children, they had to wait 11 years until their first and only child, Chiara,was born. Her father had been praying humbly and fervently at a Shrine of Our Lady in the Alps for the grace of a child. Chiara and her family were from a small village in northern Italy between Turin and Genoa, not far from the mountains. Chiara is the equivalent of the name Clare in English, but it also means clear or bright. She had beautiful, large, bright blue eyes. I found out that her birthday was Oct. 29, which is the day before mine. This day will now become her feast day. Given the year of her parent's marriage, and the day of her birth, I felt a certain closeness to the family and I now understood why God had been prompting me to go to the beatification.

The beatification Mass and surrounding ceremonies were joyful events that reflected Chiara's personality. She had a normal childhood, especially enjoying singing, dancing, and tennis. She participated in the life of her parish, and she had many friends. Chiara always had a deep love for Jesus and Our Lady. She had a special concern for the least ones, often putting coins in a box for poor African orphans and dreaming of becoming a doctor to go to Africa to care for them. On the day of her First Communion, she received a book containing the four Gospels. She was delighted and said, "Just as it was easy for me to learn the alphabet, it should be the same way for living the Gospel!" At the age of 9, she joined the Focolare Movement and drew her parents into it.

When she was 17, she returned home early from a tennis match because of a sharp pain in her left shoulder that was eventually diagnosed as bone cancer. When she heard the diagnosis, she didn't cry or rebel, but she remained absorbed in silence. After 25 minutes, she said yes to the will of God. She would often repeat, "If you want it Jesus, I want it as well." She didn't lose her luminous smile throughout the last three years of her life, which included painful treatments, surgeries that proved useless and that deprived her of her ability to walk. The bed in the hospital and in her house became her place to meet people and to do her apostolate. Some of her doctors who were unbelievers, were struck by the peace that stirred within her. They were drawn to her as metal to a magnet. Some returned to the practice of the faith as a result. Many still speak about her 20 years after her death, remembering her and asking for her intercession.

Her father said that the last two years of her life were extraordinary. Chiara went forward hand in hand with her parents through her trials. He said they lived those two years on a supernatural level, elevated by grace. Chiara often wrote to Chiara Lubich, the foundress of the Focolare Movement who gave her the nickname "Luce," meaning "light." Together with her first name, this could be translated into "clear light" or "bright light."

She was concerned for her mother who would have to go on without her after she died. She told her, "Entrust yourself to God, then you have done everything," and "When I am no longer here, follow God and you will find the strength to go forward."

Her friends came to console her, but they returned more consoled by her. She would tell them, "You can't imagine what my relationship with Jesus is like now... I feel that God is asking something more of me, something greater. Maybe I will have to stay in this bed for years, I don't know. I am only interested in the will of God, doing it well in the present moment: to remain at the whim of God."

And again: "I was too absorbed by so many ambitions, projects and who knows what else. Now things seem trivial, frivolous and fleeting to me ... I now I feel myself wrapped in a beautiful design that is gradually revealing itself to me. If you ask me now if I want to walk (the operation had left her paralyzed), I would say no, because in this way, I am closer to Jesus."

There is more to write since so little about this new blessed has been translated into English, but I will leave that for a future article. I am very grateful to Fr. John Larson for having introduced me to Blessed Chiara. Father Mariusz and I both feel extremely blessed to have attended her beatification Mass. She died on October 7, 1990, the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. Her last words were addressed to her mother. "Mamma, be happy, because I am. Bye."

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